Van Richten's Guide to Vampires
Author: Nigel D. Findley
Summary of content:
Notes: This book was to see reprint in 1999 as a part of the Van Richten's Monster Hunter's Compendium Volume 1 (with little expansion in this re-edition).
Wow! This book flabbergasted me when it came out. This accessory was opening a world of creativity for the DM - as dragons, vampires increased their powers according to their age! It was quite revolutionary for the time… The book is very well written, full of useful information, and keep reader captivated.
We first have an intro from the good Dr himself, explaining how he became what he is known for, and the fate of his son. Chapter two's most useful part is about the biology of vampires, and the implications of these considerations (since they do not breathe, we could find vampires at the bottom of the sea ? wow!).
Chapter three was about regular powers for vampires (shapechanging, gaseous form, etc.) as well as age categories for vampires and their effect (on hit dice, movement, charm ability, etc.), and salient abilities (to create unique vampires, DMs can give some vampires unique, rare powers - such as passwall, dimension door, superior regeneration, vampiric rage, etc.). That part was grand. The nightless world was opened…
Part four, five and six gave the basics of vampire creation, vampire weaknesses (explanations on the axiom 'a vampire can't enter a home unless invited') and ways to destroy a vampire. Excellent material.
Part seven is about the effect of magic spells (and items) on vampires - it is well explained, strong, and consistent. Part eight is on feeding and explains well the mechanics of vampire feeding, as well as expansion on 'signs of feeding' and alternative to blood for feeding.
Part eight is on vampire sleep mechanics while nine is on hibernation (a great concept where vampires enter hibernation for long period of time. This can generate great adventure hooks!).
For interesting roleplay ideas, part ten, eleven and twelve expands the relations of vampires with their own kind, the mind of vampires (psychology of immortality, etc.) and the facades vampire adopt to live in human societies without being detected and hunted.
This book answers all questions on blood suckers. If it's not in this book, it's not relevant. Vampires in Ravenloft were not the same after this book was out: no longer a single page of the monster manual, they were becoming complex, unique and surprising. A must-have book for Ravenloft Dungeon Masters, even in the 3rd edition era. It gave me thousands of ideas for my campaigns. Excellent read. 4,9 on 5. One of the best Ravenloft product ever on my bookshelf.
David "Jester" Gibson
This is the first VanRichten Guide, this principle volume of the increasingly large series. Released very early in the line, this product expanded on the ideas presented in the Black Box that all vampires were individuals first and undead monsters second. It brought the idea, new to D&D, that vampires did not all have the same generic weaknesses and strengths and could become more powerful as they aged. It did not address questions -such as how a L20 character turned into a vampire suddenly loses over half their hit dice- but it was a start.
This book begins with an introduction that really acts as an introduction to the character of Rudolph Van, the limited background provided in the Black Box is expanded on and the individual grows becoming a man with likes and dislikes, strengths and flaws. Remarkably, he was born in Darkon, thus he is one of the few non-Outlander heroes of the setting. A feat all the more astounding given the assumption that games would be ‘weekends in hell’. After this the book dives into the world of vampires giving some speculation on the origins of the species. This chapter also retells the origins of Strahd and Barovia but thankfully the author does so in a way other than quoting the much rifled through pages of the Tome of Strahd. This first chapter also goes into the necrology of vampires briefly describing how their bodies work, some quick notes on their blood and makes a passing reference to vampires of different racial stock. This is after the first Monstrous Compendium so the author cannot be blamed for the unusual and far too different racial variants such as the elven and dwarven vampires.
The second chapter focuses on vampiric power from the basics such as shape changing and animal control to the special salient abilities. This brings in a great and much appreciated part of Ravenloft lore, the special powers. And for 2nd Edition AD&D they are done well. There are eighteen new variations with notes on if the vampire possesses the same ability twice (based on random generation). This is given a random element but still works. Sadly, this chapter also introduces the largest flaw in the book, the accidental reference to game information in the text. There are few things that can shatter a mood like Rudolph Van mentioning rounds or stats. A minor oversight and nitpicking but still notable. The next chapter discusses the creation of vampires, from curses and even brings up vampires whose bite creates more. This is a very small chapter however and it could have very easily been folded into other chapters.
Chapter four deals with vampiric weaknesses although this focuses more on expanding and clarifying what vampires can and cannot do. The chapter would have been far more rounded if more attention were paid to crafting new vulnerabilities and specific weaknesses for those individual vampires VanRichten is always prattling on about. Continuing on from this chapter is the one on destroying vampires. Why these two were not joined is another mystery of the mists. Once again the focus is on expanding on known weaknesses and not elaborating on constructing specialized and personalized means of destruction. This chapter does introduce the concept of ‘stigmata’, scars inflicted upon the vampire. Magic and Vampires is discussed next, this focuses on how spells from the individual schools or types of spell affect vampires. Once again, this is a short chapter that could have easily been folded into previous chapters. Much of the effect of these spells is common sense but the clarification is still nice.
The sixth chapter is on vampiric feeding. This chapter breaks from the regular and gives more general advice as well as a long list if variant food sources and even some philosophical considerations on blood. However, much of this chapter again fits more into the necrology of vampires and again there are some flagrant examples of VanRichten using game information. This is followed by a chapter on vampire’s sleep and their related habits. This is another short chapter but there is some useful advice. Following this is an equally short chapter on Hibernation which, apparently, differs enough from sleep to warrant its own chapter. The rules for this are far too condensed and it feels like some information is missing. This chapter, however, also features some of the most flagrant examples of VanRichten quoting game information. This is most likely the result of poor editing and a mistakenly not shaded DM-sidebar.
Next we move onto Relationships Between Vampires, a fun little chapter dealing with why vampires make spawn but also introducing several new vampirisms to Ravenloft. First of these is Kin-nectar answering the question of ‘can vampires feed on each other’? Then comes the vampire brides (and grooms), a special relationship between vampires born out of love or a desire for companionship. A very fitting addition, it is easy to picture Strahd making Tatyana his undead bride. Following this is The Mind of the Vampire, which focuses on the mind and psychology of immortals as well as their development from humans into monsters. Thankfully, this includes some talk of alignment and why all vampires (save a handful) are chaotic evil. However, VanRichten’s firm stance that no vampire can remain anything but CE after their first few hundred years conflicts with the setting as Strahd is Lawful Evil!
The Façade is next, aka the Masquerade, vampires posing as mortals and hiding out in mortal society. Much of this goes into the reasoning behind why they do this essentially justifying the convention of the hidden upper-class blood sucker. The explanations are nice and the reasoning is sound but there is little here that is new. There is also some description put into the discovery and hunting of such vampires but not much. The book ends with the chapter Retained Skills, class abilities that a vampire can still use. Much of this chapter is squeezing the 2E monster rules into realism in a justified and explained manner that does not quite fit. Round peg meet square hole. There is not much discussion on the rules of vampires with classes or gaining classes sadly, it is assumed that while they age they simply gain levels with their other new powers. Most of this chapter is antiquated and irrelevant now with the template system but was still unimpressive when it was written.
VanRichten’s Guide to Vampires was a good book when it was first published, not great but good. It was a step in the right direction although, being the first of its kind, it had the misfortune of having to break all the new ground so it can be forgiven for much of its roughness and reliance on explaining the average and not giving enough examples of extraordinary. The book is marred by its below average organization and some sloppy editing. Far too many chapters seem overly specialized and far too small. Also, the heavy hand of 2E rules weighs heavily on this book and its myriad explanations for that system’s limits and conventions. Thankfully, much of the book is fluff text and description so there is less conversion needed. What new rules are provided are easily adjustable into 3E (or have already been done in the RL: CS/PHB or VR Arsenal).
Three and a half severed digits out of five. It was good but could have been better. Bonus points for helping to set the tone for so much still to come.
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